The Break-up of Mediterranean Unity

How and where did Islam originate?

How important were its contributions to art, culture and science?

The birth of Islam

The word Islam has two meanings. On the one hand, it is the religion preached by Mohammad in the 7th century. On the other, it is the empire conquered by the Muslims during the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Islamic religion started in Arabia, a vast desert area. The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula were organised in tribes which were constantly fighting and there was no political or cultural and religious power to unite them. Most of the tribes were polytheistic.

Mohammad, the founder of Islam

Mohammad, the prophet of Allah, was born in the city of Mecca in 571 into a family of wealthy merchants. At the age of 40, he started to preach a new religion, Islam, which means submission to God.

This new religion was not welcome in Mecca and Mohammad had to flee to Medina in 622. This date is known as Hegira and marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.

Eight years later, Mohammad returned victorious to Mecca and from there he spread Islam. Upon his death, in 632, almost all the Arabian Peninsula was unified.

The expansion of Islam

After Mohammad’s death, the Muslim army extended the new religion through the Jihad or holy war. They created a great empire. The expansion was undertaken in three phases:

  • During the Orthodox caliphate (632-661), the Muslims conquered Syria, Palestine, Persia and Egypt. They fought against the Byzantines but then internal struggles for power led to a new dynasty.

  • The Omeya caliphate (661-750), the capital of the empire was moved to Damascus. This dynasty expanded through northern Africa and conquered the Iberian Peninsula. However, it was unsuccessful in its efforts to defeat the Byzantines. An internal revolt gaye the power to the Abassids.

  • With the Abassid dynasty (750-1258), the capital was established in Baghdad. Because of numerous internal struggles to seize power, the decline of the empire started.

Islamic Empire

A cultured society

Islam developed a brilliant civilization characterised by the contributions from both the Arab culture as well as former societies in the Peninsula. The Muslims translated many works by Greek and Roman philosophers into Arabic. These translations as well as techniques from ancient Persia, India and China, such as paper, spread through the West.

They also created great libraries, as in Baghdad, Córdoba and Cairo. They cultivated poetry and music, wrote many travel books, geography and history. They wrote extraordinary narrations which they copied with beautiful calligraphy, such as The Arabian Nights.

The development of science

The Muslims brought gun powder, the compass and the astrolabe from India and China. These last two instruments played an important role in the development of navigation. They were also great astronomers and mathematicians. They made catalogues of stars, they started to use zero and the Arabic numerals, they invented algebra and improved arithmetic and trigonometry.

In medicine, they developed advanced surgery and anaesthesia techniques, which have come down to us thanks to the works of two renowned doctors, Avicena and Averroes.

The Muslims invented the still used in the distillation of alcohol and introduced sorne discoveries in agriculture, such as the waterwheel, and irrigation techniques, and new crops, such as rice, oranges and saffr

The cultural splendour of Córdoba

With more than 100,000 inhabitants in the lOth century, Córdoba was one of the most populated and important cities in the West. Only Baghdad and Constantinople were more populated at that time.

Archangel Gabriel and Mohammad

Slavs and Visigoths                                                      Carolingian Empire